Sunday, November 4, 2007
So as this new chapter of this season of the USCL is about to get underway (ie the playoffs), it’s once again time for me to try to give everyone some insight into what I think might take place. Despite the fact that more than a few of my previous predictions have been ridiculed by some (even by myself, as evidenced by my need to apologize to a team for one such terrible prediction), I feel the need to point out the fair accuracy of my preseason predictions (having five of six playoff teams correct and in the West where I had the finishing order of the teams nearly exactly correct). So it may be that I actually do have some idea of what might happen (or I could just be a lucky idiot) and thus here goes.
Wildcard: Philadelphia vs New York
This is a tricky matchup. In one sense, everything seems to favor Philadelphia as they had the better regular season record, swept the season series between these two teams, and have draw odds in the upcoming match. But of course things are just never that simple in the USCL as more than one time teams have overcome similar such seeming inequities (Miami’s upset of San Francisco in the 2005 Semifinals, and New York’s upset of Boston in the 2006 Semifinals just to name a couple). Based on pure statistics (ie ratings) New York is unquestionably the stronger team though, and the Knights really have momentum on their side as they seemed to be incredible long shots to even make the postseason but ended on a 4 – 1 run to make it. GM Hikaru Nakamura has been tearing up Europe the past few weeks which has caused him to miss the last two weeks of the regular season, but fortunately his team was able to qualify without him, and now I'm sure they hope he is back from Europe and ready to play. As for lineups, I would definitely expect New York to use Nakamura on Board 1 (if he's available) and Zenyuk on Board 4 with Boards 2 and 3 being a bit more unclear as I could see them using any of these combinations: Charbonneau + Bonin, Krush + Hess, or Krush + Bonin while Philadelphia I’m almost sure will use Kudrin + Smith + Costigan with the only uncertainty whether they use Wilson or Yeager on 4. Whichever choices the teams make in this regard, I think Philadelphia clearly has to have an edge based on their sweeping the season series plus the draw odds. I’m not willing to make it a very large one based on New York’s resilience and current momentum though. Philadelphia advances 55%.
Semifinals: Boston vs Philadelphia/New York
Boston seems like a team which is a bit easier to nail down as to what lineup they might happen to use based on the amount each player has played in the regular season. I would definitely expect to see Christiansen on 1, Shmelov on 3, and Williams on 4 with the only main question being whether Perelshteyn or Sammour-Hasbun ends up manning 2. Whichever choice they make there though if they are up against Philadelphia I definitely like their chances as they seem to match up well against Philadelphia’s lineups (as evidenced by their sweeping the season series) whereas against New York it seems very close to even on all boards. Boston does have draw odds on their side though whichever team they happen to play so my guess would be: Boston advances against Philadelphia 70%, and Boston advances against New York 60%.
So based on those estimations, each team’s chances to make the finals from the East are about:
New York: 18%
Wildcard: Miami vs San Francisco
Unlike the Wildcard in the other Division, in this one, the winner of the season series was the lower ranked team as Miami won the only regular season meeting between these two. This match I’m sure will have several of the Mechanics players thinking back to the tough defeat they suffered in this same situation back in the 2005 Semifinals as there are more than a few players still on both teams who took part in that battle. As for lineups, for Miami I’m fairly certain they will use Becerra on 1 and Barredo on 4, but 2 and 3 are a little unclear as I could see them using any combination of Lugo, Martinez, Moreno Roman, and Espino. San Francisco is equally unclear as other than them using Bhat on 2, to me nothing else is really certain as I could see Wolff or Friedel manning 1, Zilberstein, Pruess, or Donaldson manning 3, and Naroditsky or Young manning 4. Whatever happens though, I think Miami will have a definite edge on 1 (Becerra with White) while I prefer the Mechanics on 2 and 3 with 4 being close. With draw odds, San Francisco advances 67% here.
Semifinals: Dallas vs San Francisco/Miami
If Dallas has any weakness it may be that their lineup for this match might be a bit easier to guess than their opponents’ as I would be rather surprised if they didn’t show up bearing Boskovic + Kuljasevic + Stopa + Zorigt. Although Bartholomew is certainly capable of filling one of the top two spots if needed, given Boskovic handled the top board nine times out of ten in the regular season and that Kuljasevic is really the unsung hero of the Dallas team this season with his 5.5/6 record, this lineup seems by far the most likely. Should the Destiny take on the Sharks, I forsee a matchup very similar to Miami’s in the Wildcard, one where the Sharks are favored on 1 but underdogs on 2 and 3 with 4 being unclear. On the other hand, should the Destiny take on the Mechanics, like the other potential Semifinal (Boston vs New York), it seems likely to be a match where neither side has much of an edge anywhere, but I must take note that in that near exact situation in the regular season finale, the Mechanics triumphed. However, having draw odds from the start is a far different situation psychologically and based on all the factors I think Dallas advances against Miami 67%, and Dallas advances against San Francisco 58%.
So each teams’ approximate chances to be in the Finals from the West are:
San Francisco: 28%
Now of course it’s rather difficult for me to make any predictions about what might happen here (given that I, you know, don’t even know which teams will be playing in the Finals) so I’ll just leave you with some estimations of what I think each team’s chances of winning the League at this point are.
San Francisco: 16%
New York: 11%